During some routine housekeeping among old hard drives and archived material I came across the earliest digital photographs I ever took and I was surprised at the quality. There are a few experiments which date back to the year 2000 when I had started playing with the first consumer digital cameras; the professional cameras at the time were bulky and expensive and it was another three years before I felt confident enough to make the investment and begin the switch from film to the new technology.
That was to be more than just a financial investment - it meant a whole rethink of the process and business of photography. Beyond making an exposure on to a light-sensitive surface, that is where all similarities between film and digital cameras ended. It felt like starting from scratch once the picture had been taken. We had to learn how to store and view the files on computers that were themselves playing catch-up; we had to get our heads around the complexities of editing software and understand the real implications of resolution and interpolation for printing. The trouble was, the traditional photo labs were having to do the same, everyone was on the same learning curve.
Click on any image to enlarge
Black and white photography, which held a particular appeal to portrait photographers like myself, was especially difficult to get right at the printing stage and many of us continued to shoot black and white film whenever that finish was required. Some, including a few of the great names in photography still do. For all the benefits and advantages of digital photography we went through several years of technical turmoil (sometimes I feel I still am), during which the role of the lab technician and the traditional darkroom and its wet processes have all but been sidelined into a specialist niche of the art world.
But what of the cameras and the quality of their output in that time? I have never been a fan of the manufacturers’ race for more megapixels and looking back at some of my earlier photos I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well in quality terms they stand up by the latest standards. I can see the case for super high resolution capture in some genres of photography but I don’t think those need necessarily include family portraits, events, lifestyle and travel where speed and flexibility are often likely to be of greater importance.
The images in the gallery were taken on a Nikon D40, D70, Panasonic GF1 and an i-Phone between 2008 and 2012, can you tell which?
In 2005 I took a portrait of a young girl which was chosen for exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in the then Schweppes Portrait Prize. The photograph was created on my first professional grade Nikon digital camera which had a 5.9 megapixel sensor; to put that resolution in perspective, it's about half way between my i-Phone 4 and i-Phone 5. The exhibited print that I had made measured 30x20 inches.
Digging out this and similar photographs has been a fun trip back to the early days of digital photography as we know it in the consumer sense. Most of these photographs were taken in the last ten years and I have purposefully picked shots taken on ten different cameras, from compacts to the latest DSLR to hopefully illustrate that there’s more to this kind of photography than the gear. The only really important thing is to be out there recording those special moments - and it certainly doesn’t matter if your camera is last year’s model.